Beyond Lip-Service

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

An article in the Christian Science Monitor discusses the meaning and possible future ramifications of the Huckabee candidacy and pretty well hits the nail on the head. In fact, except for not explicitly stating that Christianity is more compatible with socialism than with secular, American values, it makes many of the same points Objectivists have for years about the threat posed by the increased influence of religion on our culture:

Huckabee's supporters glimpse in him the archetype of the "new evangelical" -- a truer representative of the "compassionate conservatism" that Bush preached but never practiced. In fact, Huckabee's seemingly novel mix of moral conservatism and economic populism owes more to the 19th century than the 21st.

During the Second Great Awakening, revivalists such as Charles Finney led a national movement to transform the young republic on an expansive set of issues. Some of them -- abolition and women's rights, for instance -- would today be called "progressive"; others -- such as temperance or religious education -- come closer to what we think of as "conservative."

Those who accuse Huckabee of falling prey to "liberal values" betray an ignorance of evangelical history. By transcending the false division between "moral values" and "social justice," Huckabee actually represents a return to a more broad-based and less ideological brand of evangelical politics, one that [predates] the modern split between liberals and fundamentalists that became so pronounced during the later 20th century.

Perhaps the reason that Huckabee has struck fear in the hearts of so many Republicans and old-guard fundamentalists is less ideological than pragmatic. The evangelical groundswell that plucked Huckabee from obscurity during the Iowa caucuses demonstrated the viability of a Republican candidate who represents Evangelicals but who also believes that the state has a positive and necessary role to play in the lives of citizens, especially those whom Jesus called "the least of these." [bold added]
Huckabee's candidacy thus represents both a danger and an opportunity. Obviously, his candidacy (which is hardly unique in adopting leftist positions) represents a "proof of concept" for the Democrats, who had already begun to pander to religious voters long ago. The opportunity it represents will be difficult to capitalize upon, as a recent historical parallel will indicate.

As the threat religion poses to personal freedom becomes more evident over time, it will be opposed by a coalition of interests much like the threat to economic freedom posed by socialists was, particularly after the failed Presidency of Jimmy Carter. In the short run, then, a full-tilt implementation of a religious political agenda will run into stiff opposition. But as anyone who remembers the "stagflation" of the Carter years (and the rise to power of the conservative coalition) can sadly attest, such ideologically inconsistent opposition is ultimately doomed to failure.

For example: What happened to dismantling the welfare state "brick by brick", as I recall one Republican figure saying as recently as 1994? The Republicans did not base their opposition to socialism on anything deeper than a sense-of-life, emotional level and when push came to shove -- that is, when the necessity of cutting social services conflicted with altruistic moral ideals -- socialism won because it was regarded as moral.

Then as now -- and always -- the practical results of bad philosophical ideas put into practice will go only so far in preventing people who still hold said ideas from putting them into practice, thereby eroding our freedom (and therefore endangering our lives). Our only chance is to take full advantage of whatever slowness there is in the destruction of freedom -- by working overtime to challenge on a fundamental level the bad ideas floating around in the culture and giving rise to the problem.

Specifically, until the intimate connection between faith and force and the necessity of the free exercise of reason to one's own life are commonly understood by the man on the street, our society will be especially vulnerable to the threat posed by people like Huckabee -- people who proudly admit that they have no basis whatsoever for the ideals they profess, and yet hope to use the apparatus of the state to implement these ideals.

-- CAV

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